The People of Gibraltar

1839 - Major Hort - Lieutenant Lacey


Some time ago I wrote a short essay on Major Richard Hort’s The Rock. (See LINK) Rather brave of me as at the time his book The Rock was unavailable either digitally or as hard copy. Since then Google Books in their wisdom decided to include it in their incredible library allowing me to delve somewhat deeper into Holt’s book. 

From a literary point of view The Rock is a complete mishmash in that it consists of several relatively unconnected sections - a number of tunes and their respective scores  . . . . 


. . . three unreadable short stories, an informative preface, short descriptions of Gibraltar - and others of the surrounding Campo area towns, and a dozen engravings, eleven of them based on the work of William Lacey. This article will concentrate on the last three topics.
The Preface - Wearied with the dull routine of garrison duty during a residence at Gibraltar, extending to a period nearly approaching three years, it may well be supposed that any occupation tending to break the monotony of the scene, would readily be embraced. 
The primary object of all “new arrivals” is to gain the highest pinnacle of the Rock, and from thence enjoy the splendid view laid out, as if in a map, before them; and having ranged through the excavations, and shuddered over the dark abyss in Saint Michael’s Cave, they usually terminate their exertions, and depart fully impressed with the conviction, that everything in Gibraltar, worthy of notice, had been brought under their immediate observation. 
Little satisfied with so cursory and superficial an examination, the Author eagerly availed himself of the many hours placed at his disposal, to explore the numerous, and in many instances, magnificent beauties which abound throughout and around the Rock. In these rambles, interesting even when prosecuted alone, but rendered doubly so, when enhanced by the presence of a friend, an Officer of the Forty-Sixth Regiment, whose pencil has so successfully embellished the following pages . . . . Gibraltar 31st March 1839 
The officer in question was Lieutenant William Lacey. 


The Rock from Spain  (1830s – Unknown )
Impressions of life on the Rock - It was a hot sultry day at noon, in the month of March, 1839 - the air was as oppressively close as could be experienced at any more advanced period of the year in England - when the sound of distant music in the main street of Gibraltar foretold the return of the troops from the Neutral Ground, where they had been exercising since an early hour in the morning. 
The streets, as usual, were crowded with contrabandistas, (see LINK) who, arrayed in their fanciful yet picturesque costumes, were busily engaged in completing purchases, with the laudable and confessed intention of defrauding the revenues of their own country, to the greatest extent their ingenuity could devise, or their intrepidity effect.
Here and there the graceful figure of some dark-eyed senorita might have been observed gliding noiselessly along the sunny pavement towards the Spanish chapel, under whose portal she would suddenly vanish, as she entered the sacred-edifice to offer up her mid-day prayers.  
But at the hour named few ladies were to be met; and though no scarcity of beauty was discovered peering forth from behind the friendly shelter of the green jalousie, it is not the period when a stranger may expect to find a Spanish lady without the sanctuary of her own abode. 
Moors in their stately dresses of various hues, and the more humbly apparelled Jew shuffling along in his yellow slippers, were to be met with in abundance; while Greeks, Genoese, Africans, and natives from every province in Spain, crowded the long street which forms the principal feature of the town.(See LINK 
Those whom fortune may not have induced to visit the Rock of Gibraltar, should take an early opportunity of supplying the omission; for dull and wearisome as the  place may seem to most whose prolonged sojourn in the garrison is not entirely optional, there is much beauty both in animate, as well as in inanimate nature, amply sufficient to repay the traveller for his exertions. 
. . . We know not why it is, but whenever “the pomp and circumstance of war ” makes its appearance, arrayed in all the splendid panoply thereunto pertaining, none can complain of a paucity of bright eyes to gaze on the glittering pageant; and though no scarcity of military parade exists, the absence of fair forms and flowing mantillas, to hover round the scene of martial display, never lends its aid towards the tedium and sameness of garrison detail. 
On the occasion of which we write, the whole of the troops had been under arms; and the presence of a member of the Royal Family, who for some months past had fixed his residence on the Rock, might probably have, in some measure, prolonged the manoeuvres beyond the accustomed hour. 
The member of the Royal Family was the Duke of Cambridge of whom Holt then proceeds to give a lengthy and hagiographic account which I will give a miss. 

The Engravings



Moorish Mosque and Castle   (William Lacey)

The title of this engraving is ambiguous but I suspect it refers to the Castle complex as a whole (see LINK)  rather than to a separate mosque as there is precious little evidence that any such still existed in Gibraltar ata the time. The skyline from bottom left to upper right shows the huge south east facing wall ending at the corner with a rather dilapidated tower which would later be repaired, acquire a clock and be renamed the Stanley Tower - at the top another tower and the Castle itself.

The castle precinct wall continues towards the south east and is divided by the monumental Gate house. It may have been built during the 12th century and was once known as Bab-al-Fath – the gate of Victory. (See LINK

The huge changes in the urban environment during the intervening years make it is very hard to give the artist’s viewpoint - other than that it was an empty space.  My guess is that this was a parade ground that was once found in front of the Civil Hospital. (See LINK



North Front and Ceuta

The isthmus in front of the Rock was often used as a parade ground in the 19th century. It may have been a conscious or unconscious decision by the military establishment to carry out some of these impressive manoeuvres in full view of the Spaniards on the other side of the Neutral Ground. The road on the left leads to Catalan Bay (see LINK) on the east side of the Rock and the red roofed buildings are part of the new slaughterhouse built in the 1830s. (See LINK)  According to Dr John Hennen (see LINK) of yellow fever fame. (See LINK): 
The butcheries and markets have been placed under excellent regulations. Formerly a piece of ground, below the Line Wall to the northward of the King's bastion, was occupied as a butchery, or zoca, and as a landing-place for the cattle; this place had often been a source of complaint, and was indeed a very great nuisance. Nothing of this kind now exists near the town, and the butchery has been removed to the eastern part of the neutral ground . . . .
Ceuta on the Barbary coast can be seen on the left horizon.



O’Hara’s Tower and Signal Station looking south

An unusual view highlighting the sheer eastern cliffs on the right and the steep but much more accessible slopes of the western side – the cloud hovering over O’Hara’s Tower (see LINK) at the southern end of the ridge suggests mild levanter weather in the offing. The ships shown on the bottom rright of the engraving are anchored in Rosia Bay. (See LINK


The Patio of the Convent


The Convent from the garden 

Built in 1531, the building, adjacent chapel and gardens were originally a Franciscan convent. After Anglo-Dutch forces took over in 1704, the Friars remained on the Rock for a while, but by 1728 it was taken over as the Governor’s residence. It had remained so ever since. 

At least part of the original layout of the gardens in the Convent has been attributed to General Don’s wife. (See LINK) According to Richard Ford’s well-known handbook of Spain (see LINK) :
The Governor of this Rock  . . . resides at the convent formerly a Franciscans one. It is a good residence. The garden, laid out by Lady Don, is delicious, but Scotch horticulture under an Andalucian sun can wheedle everything out of Flora and Pomona.
Lady Don was also instrumental in the creation of the far larger Alameda gardens which lay to the south of the Convent and on the other side of Charles V Wall. (See LINK) As is usual in such cases no mention is made of the undoubted input of Gibraltar’s very own Genoese gardeners who themselves maintained excellent plots both on the Rock and across the border.


Gibraltar from San Roque


A very similar view by an unknown artist

Almost the entire Spanish population Gibraltar left the Rock after 1704. Many of them took up residence close to a locally well known hermitage known as San Roque thereby forming the present town of the same name. (See LINK)


Gibraltar from Algeciras

Richard Hort hardly mentions Algeciras. In his day it was a rather small town which was still recovering from its destruction by Muhammed V of Granada in 1368. It was repopulated in 1704 after the loss of Gibraltar to the British and the Dutch. The view over the aqueduct - which was completed in 1783 – is a classic which with minor variations has been painted and photographed many times. 


Martin’s Cave

The cave which is found on the eastern side of the Rock about 200 m above sea-level is reputed to have been discovered by accident by a drunken soldier called Martin. Richard Hort describes the cave at length:
The entrance to St. Martin’s Cave is not at all calculated to attract the attention of a casual observer, but if explored, will well repay the trouble. An immense quantity of rough and shattered particles of the rock first meets the eye, which, when crossed, the interior of the cave, in all its fairy beauty, stands revealed. 
To view it in perfection, a sufficient number of flambeauxl should be placed in various directions, thoroughly to illuminate the most extraordinary appearance of the interior. In short, when lit up, the coup-d’oeil more resembles one of those brilliant pantomime scenes, which the genius of Stanfield alone can portray, than anything which imagination can figure as in reality existing. 
The roof, covered with a most beautiful frothy substance, reflecting from myriads of shining flakes, the lights exposed, and being of a glittering whiteness, seems as a canopy of burnished silver, from whence beam forth stars innumerable. 
The splendid ceiling is supported by irregular stalactites of various sizes; and the almost countless petrifactions, rising into dazzling pinnacles of all altitudes, may well persuade the looker-on that he then gazes on a magic scene. In the centre of this spot, unruffled by a breeze, reposes a small lake of the purest water, and clear as crystal, and well harmonizing with the beauties by which it is surrounded. The very shores whereby its tiny waves are bound, partake of the same Silvery hue already described; and though far from equalling St. Michael’s cave in grandeur and size, it greatly excels all others in the brilliant loveliness of its form, and glittering splendour of the substance with which nature has so lavishly clothed her favourite.

Castellar – engraving from an original by E.E. Napier and the only one in Holt’s book not by William Lacey

Castellar – or Castellar de la Frontera to give it its complete name – is a hill top village about 25 km from Gibraltar which dates back to the 13th – 14th century. During the 19th it – and much of the surrounding territory - was the property of the Marquis of Moscoso. 

As Richard Holt so correctly describes it in one of his short stories:
Castellar  . . . is indeed a picturesque object; and there it was that for months the French vainly exerted every endeavour to make themselves master of the place; but no, gallantly, and in the true Saragossa style, the Spaniards held their own; until, at length, harassed by the Guerillas fast closing around, and fearful of their retreat being cut off, the French deemed it advisable to raise the Siege and depart.
The Saragossa style may refer to the exploits of José de Palafox y Melci, Duke of Saragossa who during the Peninsular War famously held on against the French during a siege in Zaragoza. The Cork wood – or La Almoraima as it is known locally – forms part of the surrounding countryside and was one of the principle areas used by  the Royal Calpe Hunt.  (See LINK)  It was also unfortunately part of a countryside infested with bandits. (See LINK) This is what Holt had to say on the subject :
Over the space of country to be traversed between the Rock of Gibraltar and the Convent in the Cork Wood every diversity of landscape may be met with. . . . The distance between the two points . . . does not exceed twelve or fourteen miles; yet, as is ever the case in this world, nothing exists of the beautiful and bright, without alloy. The ride to the Cork Wood forms no exception to the rule; and the drawback, though not always encountered, is sufficiently disagreeable when met.  
In short, many Spanish gentlemen - disregarding the troubles of housekeeping, and spurning the shackles which a more artificial state of society imposes on all who commune with the world - have taken up their dwelling amid the sylvan fastnesses of the woods; and occasionally issuing forth from their seclusion, make the most unaccountable mistakes imaginable, with regard to the property and persons of others. 
Numerous are the instances of gross blunders these beings have committed; and so exceedingly hospitable do they occasionally prove, that it is of no rare occurrence for a traveller to find himself leaving the tract he was desirous to pursue, and wandering, in the society of a large band of jovial companions, in a direction diametrically opposite to that leading to his own home. 
In some instances, this eccentricity, on the part of the wanderers, has been productive of much inconvenience and anxiety to their guests: and it is recorded that bodily as well as mental suffering has occasionally been experienced. We have often heard tales and adventures in abundance, that have been recounted to us by those who have been favoured by an interview with these children of the forest; but though we have, at various and different periods, rambled through most parts of its shady glades, hitherto the Cork Wood has produced to our vision, naught more terrific than occasionally a startled deer, or perchance, the angry grunt of a misanthropic wild boar.
E. Napier was - incidentally - yet another military man who was considered to be both an artist and an author. His book – Scenes and Sports in Foreign Lands (see LINK) - offers various insights into what it was like to be an officer - and hopefully a gentleman – stationed in Gibraltar.

The Covent in the Cork Wood

The convent was founded in 1603 by Beatriz Ramírez de Mendoza, Countess of Castellar. The fellow in the wide-brimmed hat is possible the unofficial friar of the place Don Juan Ventura Rodríquez – the convent had only very recently been secularised. Don Juan apparently made a rather good living by supplying sustenance to members of the Royal Calpe Hunt who were frequent visitors of the place,  

The Almoraima convent is described by Holt in some detail:
As a piece of architecture, it has but little to claim attention; and on entering the arched doorway, the usual court yard, surrounded by pillars, with a deep, clear, well, placed in the centre, shaded with the foliage of numerous orange trees, are the only striking features of the place. The different apartments, of which there is a great number, still retain the appellations significant of the use to which they were formerly appropriated; and in many cases, small niches above the doors, yet support the mutilated remains of what possibly may have been images of some of the most popular saints. 
But the spot most revered by  the Padre, and from which he invariably continues to draw the attention of his visitors, until each other novelty has been examined, is the small chapel; or rather, what yet remains of the chapel of the Convent. 
Faded silk, and gaudy tinsel, may be there found in abundance; and with a demonstration of no small portion of worldly pride still beating within his aged bosom, the venerable friar, after much trouble in uncasing various strongly bound places of security, generally produces the carefully preserved gorgeous canonicals of his church. 
In this chapel, now but little frequented, may be found, diminutive silver casts of various parts of the human frame, offered up by the peasants, by way of thanksgiving for restoration from maladies of nearly every description to which our nature is liable to, and of which afflictions, one at least is supposed subject to the power of some of the multitudinous saints in the Calendar.


HRH Prince George of Cambridge quarters and Trinity 

That Moorish looking church on the left is the Protestant Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. (See LINK) It was completed in 1828 – less than a decade before the picture was painted. It was only consecrated 1838. Richard Ford found it “a grotesque building”. 

His very Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge arrived on the Rock on the 9th of October 1838. He was a colonel in the British army and had been sent over to take up what was supposed to be an important position at Staff Head Quarters – with emphasis on the word “supposed”. 

He was a man who had hardly distinguished himself either as a leader or indeed in military affairs but as usually happened with Royalty - he was nevertheless soon promoted to general and then field-marshal and inevitably ended up as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. 

During his stay in Gibraltar he lived in the house that appears in the middle distan ce in the center of the picture. He is reputed to have spent most of his time patronising ‘the Sports of Calpe' (see LINK) which, as a contemporary officer once wrote, ' he always found time to do in spite of being arduously engaged in learning the details of his profession.’

His most memorable contribution during his stay on the Rock was arriving late for a meet. His greeting to the patient huntsmen has been immortalised in the Sporting Magazine - ‘I’m devilishly glad I’ve caught you” - he is reputed to have said “- so fire away.” Foxes, however, were not his one and only prey – according to Holt he was also known to go “on shooting expeditions up the mountains.”



The Exchange and the Spanish Chapel

The Exchange - officially named the Exchange and Commercial Library (see LINK) – is on the right and the copula-less Catholic Cathedral of Saint Mary the Crowned appears in the middle distance.

Major Richard Holt’s book is odd in that it suggests the author actually liked Spain – and the Spaniards. Although not immediately obvious from the above, all his short stories depict Gibraltar’s immediate neighbours with respect not to say a certain admiration.  For that alone he can be considered not just a rara avis but somebody worthy of respect.